Monday, October 12, 2009

How to deal with an upset customer.

Post 344 - Dealing with an upset customer is one of the most challenging parts of doing business. Angry customers can be frustrating, demanding and often hard to satisfy. Dave Kahle, an expert in this field whose ideas I've summarized below, says it's important to start with a perspective of respecting the customer. Unlike the customer, you're not angry, you're in control, and your only problem at the moment is helping him with his problem. If you start reacting to the customer in an emotional way, you'll lose this control, you’ll lose your power, and the situation will likely escalate into a lose-lose for everyone.

• Listen.
Start by putting yourself in the customer's shoes, and trying to see the situation from his perspective. Don't cut him off or urge him to calm down. Your job is to let the customer vent and to listen attentively so you can understand the source of his frustration. That way, you send a powerful unspoken message that you care about him and his situation. As you listen, you can begin to piece together the customer's story. Let's suppose the customer ordered something from you three weeks ago. You quoted him a price of $XX and promised delivery by last Friday for a project that's starting this week. Not only is the equipment not here, he's also received an invoice with a different price than that which was originally quoted. When he’s finished, let him know you understand and empathize with what he’s feeling. Say something like: "I can tell you're upset and angry...and I'm very sorry this has happened. If I were you, I'd be frustrated, too. I'm sorry you're experiencing this problem." This usually calms the customer down so you can now proceed to deal with the problem.

• Identify the problem.
Sometimes while the customer is venting, you'll be able to see the problem right away. Something is broken. Or late. Or he thinks a promise has been broken. At this stage ask the customer to give you some details. "What day did you order it, when exactly was it promised, what’s your situation at the moment?" These kind of questions force the customer to think about facts instead of his feelings about those facts which lets you introduce a more rational kind of conversation. You can now apologize for the customer's inconvenience without pointing fingers. Just say, "I'm sorry this has happened and I understand that it must be very frustrating. Let's just see what we can do fix it, OK?"

• Avoid blame.
Avoiding blame is different from acknowledging responsibility. So don't blame your company or your suppliers. Never say, "I’m not surprised your invoice was wrong. It's been happening a lot lately." Or, "Yes, our back-orders are way behind." If you know, for a fact, that a mistake has been made, you can acknowledge it. You can say, "Clearly there's a problem here with our performance. I can't change that, but let me see what I can do to help you now because I understand how important your project is."

• Resolve the problem.
You can't always fix the problem right away. But it's critical to leave the customer with the understanding that your goal is to resolve the situation. You can say, "I'm going to make some phone calls." If you do, give the customer an idea of when you’ll get back to him: "Later this afternoon." Or "First thing in the morning." Then make the phone calls. Find out what you can do for the customer and do it. Follow up with the customer when you said you would. Even if you don't have all the information you need, call and let him know what you've done, what you're working on, and what your next step will be. Make sure the customer knows that he and his business are very important to you, that you understand his frustration, and that you're working hard to get things fixed.

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